The sights and sounds of the Bluegrass State are vast, especially when it comes to history and nature. Some fantastic spots even combine Mother Nature’s beauty with history. We are blessed with spots like Cumberland Falls, Red River Gorge, Natural Arch State Park, all of which get an abundance of tourism – local and otherwise. However, an equally amazing, but often less talked about destination is the beautiful, and unique Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. It could easily be considered a natural oasis in Kentucky.
11. Cumberland Gap is located at 91 Bartlett Park Road in Middlesboro.
It has over 24,000 acres of Mother Nature’s breathtaking overlooks, flowing waterfalls, ancient rock formations, extensive trail system with varying difficulties and history, including replicas.
10. What is so unique about Cumberland Gap?
It is the place where Kentucky nuzzles peacefully with Virginia and Tennessee, providing a breathtaking view of the Pinnacle Overlook. Visitors can see for miles across all three states, and the view is one you will never forget. When available, there is a shuttle to the Overlook Trail for $5 per person, if you are not up for a lengthy walk.
9. A cave with a pool.
The Gap Cave isn’t anywhere near as big as Mammoth, but it still offers its own magic. You can walk right into the mountain and see amazing dripstone formations and other unique creations of the damp darkness. The cave even has its own life forms that thrive in the environment. One magical place deep underground is the beautiful Cleopatra’s Pool. It is a favored spot where people love to stop and just relax in the ambiance of the room and gorgeous pool of water.
8. The historic Hensley Settlement.
Tours of this historic community are available from May until October annually. The tour guide will tell you the history of the early settlers and pioneers of Kentucky, along with the tragic time of the Civil War. You will learn a bit about the original communities of mountain people, including how they lived, with well-maintained replicas of their cabin homes, storage and other buildings.
7. Taking a walk on the trails.
There are 85 miles of well-maintained hiking trails twisting through the eastern forest. Maps are available detailing the length and difficulty of the trails. They range in length from a ¼-mile loop to a 21 mile hike along Ridge Trail. Each one offers an abundance of breathtaking scenery and wildlife.
6. Visit the Visitors Center.
The hours here are from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily, EST. During those hours films are shown twice daily describing the park and the history of the area. One film lasts 11 minutes; the other 23 minutes. You can also visit the bookstore or the craft area, for those who enjoy some inside activities other than the cave tour.
5. Cumberland Gap is home to Wilderness Road.
What is Wilderness Road? It is the path that the initial settlers used to reach Kentucky from the East for over 50 years. Among them was the renowned Daniel Boone, who traveled and mapped a trail for the Transylvania Company in Virginia.
4. It is also home to the Warrior’s Path.
This was the path traveled by the Shawnee and Cherokee tribes as they hunted and lived. A captive of the Shawnee was taken along the path during his captivity with the tribe. He traveled and documented his time with the warriors. The creek shown is one they crossed over during their journey, and a beautiful spot to stop and enjoy Mother Nature today.
3. Camp out in nature’s majestic beauty.
The Wilderness Road Campground has 160 sites and is located about 3 miles from the Visitors Center across the Virginia State line. There are 20,30 and 50-amp electrical sites available, along with hot showers and potable water in the comfort stations. Camping fees are $14 for sites without electricity and $20 for electrical hookups. Seniors get half price accommodations. Passes for primitive camping can also be obtained from rangers for those who prefer to truly rough it.
2. Primitive cabin camping.
For those who want to camp out like they did in the original cabins, you are in luck. You can rent out the Martin’s Fork Cabin for a mere $10 a night. It has a massive stone fireplace to keep you cozy, a picnic table to dine on, and three primitive wooden bunk beds. The best part is you are surrounded by the beautiful nature in the backcountry area of the park. The image is one of the Hensley cabins, but they look incredibly similar. For reservations just call 606-248-2817.
1. Wildlife watching.
The abundance of wildlife in the park is wondrous. Hikers and campers will often find themselves observing beautiful deer and other forest creatures in the nearby area. Visitors are also advised to watch out for bears, as this is their domain as well. Bear safe containers are advised, or a means to elevate food to at least 10 feet above the ground level. This is for your own protection. Do not approach or feed the bears.
There is so much beauty in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. It is truly a natural oasis in Kentucky. The area makes it easy to relax and get in touch with the beauty of our state. You can find links to the different areas and historic spots in the park
here, to help plan your trip. Have you ever been to Cumberland Gap? What was your favorite part?